Luchino Visconti’s “Bellissima” focuses on a marginal fixture at Cinecitta studios: the ubiquitous stage mother. In this 1951 film, Anna Magnani wants stardom for her little girl and a better life for her small brood. In America, the stage mother is rarely shown as anything other than a selfish, conniving bitch who mercilessly exploits her offspring: the 1955 performance of Jo Van Fleet as Lillian Roth’s mother in Daniel Mann’s “I’ll Cry Tomorrow” is a good example. But in Italy, with a director willing to examine the economic conditions which ignited stage mothers, stardom for children is shows as an escape from poverty for entire families. Anna Magnani’s deep emotional understanding of her character lets her get away with sequences which few other actresses could inject with sympathy. “Bellissima” is marred by a moralistic and unbelievable conclusion which Luchino Visconti reportedly fought hard to resist. Like all of Magnani’s films, however, “Bellissima” demands compulsive attention because of the riveting presence of its star.
© 2007 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 6/27/07
Italy - 1951